Being fascinated with continually shifting from one creative style to the next, either for the sake of artistic integrity, or perhaps just simply to avoid creative stagnation, certainly says something about the kind of artist you aim to be. Sure, there is the famous idiom that refers to “the moth to the flame” and all that, in this case risking getting burned critically and commercially, but ultimately the journey to reach new heights often involves the risks needed to get there. Arguably, it takes a certain character, or personal caliber, to make that kind of decision; the kind that could very easily result in irreparable damage.
Since the very early stages of the band’s career, from abandoning the initial progressive/space-rock direction of 30 Seconds to Mars for the acclaimed alt-rock A Beautiful Lie, to eventually reach the experimental, electronically driven pop-rock territory of concept album Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams, Thirty Seconds to Mars have succeeded in rendering themselves extremely difficult to place stylistically. Seemingly captivated by always following through with the promise made on 30 Seconds to Mars’ ‘Capricorn’, “so I run, hide and tell myself I’ll start again – with a brand new name”, the band’s preference to consistently uproot the accepted style of what came before, in the search of something new and different, can sometimes polarize fans and critics alike. That being said, it’s hard to deny the band’s ambition, even if it sometimes comes at the cost of what made them so popular to begin with.
While very likely having been worked on for more than a few years, the band’s 2018 effort, America, very much seems a more immediate means to an end, in response to what can in some respects be considered a truly saddening 2017; in the wake of having recently lost several well respected artists within the music industry, alongside various political developments causing unrest, America’s appropriately politically infused lead single, ‘Walk On Water’, seemed the perfect reintroduction for the band, following a five year gap after the release of 2013’s Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams. Stylistically continuing the far more electronically enhanced material of the previous record, ‘Walk On Water’s anthemic chorus and magnetic call-to-arms lyrical direction imbues the track with a notable optimism toward recent troubles, welcoming society to band together rather than be pushed apart. While critically well received, the far more pop orientated approach to the track attracted a similar criticism to the likes of Linkin Park’s 2017 record, One More Light, the seventh and final album to feature lead singer and frontman Chester Bennington. The album itself, true to the majority of Linkin Park’s career, displayed another example of radical stylistic deviation, from a far more rock orientated approach to instead present more accessible content, while focusing on a personal, introspective lyrical direction.
True to continuing ‘Walk On Water’s initial glimpse into the album, America finds itself embracing many of the sounds of the modern electronic and R&B scene, with ‘One Track Mind’s wailing synthesiser chorus and hip-hop A$AP Rocky bridge easily accessible to any attentive mainstream listener. That being said, the brief appearance of a squealing effects-heavy guitar solo towards the end of the track completely uproots it’s relatively hesitant direction, acting as the boiling point for the song and intensifying its conclusion. Elsewhere, while ‘Monolith’ shares similarities with the dramatic introductory Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams track ‘Dreams’, it bleeds neatly into ‘Love Is Madness’, an overall far softer addition to the album’s roster; that is, until the chorus breaches the surface, immediately transforming the moody, glitchy drum work and bass-heavy track into a huge roar of defiance. The back and forth between vocalist Jared Leto and guest artist Halsey immediately embellishes the lyrical direction of the track perfectly, taking it in turns to hit harder than the other during a furious delivery of “I never said that I would be your lover / I never said that I would be your friend.”
Furthering America’s heavier emphasis on energetic, electronically imbued instrumentation, the dubstep-esque anthem ‘Hail To the Victor’ and synth-heavy ‘Rescue Me’ both continue this effectively enough, with plenty of enjoyable catchy material to be found, but where the album really shines and succeeds in blending its more abrasive synthetic instrumentation with the older rock elements of former Thirty Seconds to Mars releases is better explored throughout ‘Dawn Will Rise’; initially reserved and gently delivered, the track’s bridge finally lurches abruptly forward and snaps free of any former restraint, diving into huge percussion and blasting sirens, while Leto calls through the mix mournfully “fortunes fade in time, I must change or die; dawn will rise.” Generally speaking, it’s easily one of the most atmospheric tracks found on America, while still retaining its influences to deliver an immensely satisfying ending climax.
Now, while plenty of America clearly gears itself towards the anthemic, with Jared Leto’s rousing, thunderous choruses seizing much of the album’s direction, this doesn’t quite account for America’s entirety. Album closer ‘Rider’ succeeds at being both beautiful and cinematic in its Ennio Morricone-esque atmosphere and soaring orchestral backbone, but one of the album’s biggest surprises is instead seen in the form of its most subtle offering; ‘Remedy’. With drummer Shannon Leto instead taking lead, ‘Remedy’ sees the band discarding virtually everything instrumentally, the elaborate synthesiser work and pulsating bass disregarded completely in favour of a barebones acoustic guitar, and Shannon Leto delivering a crooning, sombre vocal performance in what almost feels like an alt-country track.
Overall, America is ambitious, that much has to be said; at many moments it’s triumphant and charismatic, and certainly feels like a natural addition to Thirty Seconds to Mars’ ever-changing catalogue. Performance-wise, it’s undeniable that once again the band’s members are completely dedicated to their chosen stylistic approach throughout the record, and just like One More Light this will no doubt draw its criticisms for lacking any real representation of the Thirty Seconds to Mars of old. And sure, the inner angst-fuelled teenager of over a decade ago may whine in response to America‘s lack of a rock edge, mourning the signature screams of A Beautiful Lie and blasting guitar distortion of 30 Seconds to Mars being well and truly a thing of the past, but that’s really not who this band is anymore. Instead, America represents Thirty Seconds to Mars with an open armed welcome to all those willing to join, just like ‘Walk On Water’ indicated it to be; to come together – not stand apart.